Sunday 26 January 2020

Player diary - Denis Buckley: Disappointed to miss out on Ireland call, but I know the door is not closed

Connacht's Denis Buckley and Bundee Aki congratulate each other. Photo: Sportsfile
Connacht's Denis Buckley and Bundee Aki congratulate each other. Photo: Sportsfile

Denis Buckley

After beating Munster, it is very satisfying to be able to sign off on reaching our goal of Champions Cup rugby for next season.

We know we have that wrapped up for next season and can face into our last two games and try to clinch a play-off place. That's the big target now.

The Munster win was a great achievement and something we're all massively proud of. The significance of it is pretty big: back-to-back wins over Munster is something Connacht have never done, so it's a nice bit of history for us to make.

Treviso will be pretty fired up I'm sure. We're expected to win out there, and it's a game we'll carry plenty of confidence into, but we're aware they'll be fighting for their lives.

It's good to have a two-week lead-in to that game, which will ensure we are clued in.

Things haven't gone Munster's way this season, but we saw in the first 20 minutes how powerful they can be.

It was no surprise, but the intensity of their play and their physicality made it tough for us to get into the game.


We certainly made mistakes in that period: a system error in defence let them in for the first try; and we were really annoyed when they scored a mauled try against us.

Before we knew it they were two tries up, but I think we coped really well after that.

Everyone kept calm and there was some great talk when we went 14-6 down, and with a bit of dominance at scrum time we managed to gain a foothold.

They were really tough to break down and we had to go through lots of phases to get chances. It was only a stray pass that broke their shape for Niyi's first try, but eventually we wore them down.

To score 29 unanswered points against Munster is an impressive feat and we realise that it came from some great team work.

Munster have been written off in a lot of places, but they're a really good team. They were very close to beating Leinster in the Aviva, and they beat Ulster in Belfast earlier this year.

With the world-class talent they have, it won't be long until things turn around for them.

From a personal point of view, I really enjoyed the scrum battle. At the start they were really messy and the referee, Ben Whitehouse, was rightly annoyed because he wants the ball in play.

We began to get a bit of dominance after a couple of scrums and the calls went our way when they collapsed.

When James Cronin was yellow-carded after one collapse too many, it was because we had been the dominant force and they appeared to be fighting for shape before the ball came in.

They were worried about how we set up, so to earn those penalties and then the penalty try was a real reward for the work we put in as a pack.

In was interesting listening to some of the commentary on our tactics in the build-up to the game. Some people think that we just run the ball from everywhere, but in reality we have structures in place to go over a team, through a team or around a team depending on what is in front of us.

We look at what opportunities their defence gives us and then we attack that space. For example, defending your own line is totally different to defending in your opponent's 22.

If you are up the pitch, you have to keep men back to guard against the kick, so kicking the ball to them is illogical. By all means if the backfield is unguarded the smart thing is to kick; if they fan everyone out across the line there might be space up the middle of the breakdown; if they commit too many defenders around the ruck then the space is out wide.

We're comfortable that we make the right calls and it has served us well to date.

As well as our game this week, we saw the new Ireland squad announced. The day before it was named Pat Lam called me in to tell me I didn't make the cut.

It was disappointing, but dealing with those setbacks is very important. My aim is to keep getting selected and to be the best player I can for Connacht.

I have spoken to Joe Schmidt in the last few weeks and I met up with Greg Feek, the Irish scrum coach, for a session when he was down in Galway a couple of weeks back.

I picked out a few clips from scrums through the year and showed him what I can do, but also showed him a couple of others that I wanted advice on. It was great to give my thoughts on the scrum to him and it was great to pick his brain a bit too.

I strive to improve my game all the time and as a prop the scrum is a huge part of it. It was a great session with him - his feedback was excellent - and it was reassuring to know that the door is not closed to me.

Obviously I have ambitions to play for Ireland sometime, but to know that there is a clear path for me to get in there if I keep performing for my province, is very reassuring. I'll keep doing my best for Connacht and we'll see where it takes me.

Irish Independent

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